Florida’s new school voucher program was designed to help students escape bullying in public schools by giving public funds to students to attend private schools.
In theory, this seems like a perfect remedy to the increasing problems bulling has caused in many public schools. However, many of the private schools that will participate in the Hope Scholarship program have racist practices regarding their hair policies. The practices include banning certain hairstyles like dreadlocks, cornrows and other styles associated directly with Black children. Critics say these policies are perpetuating the same acts of bullying the scholarship program is aiming to eliminate.
DiversityInc has reported on the exclusionary practice, as well.
Natural hairstyles aren’t new to the Black community. Black children have worn natural hairstyles to school for at least a century.
Many of the schools who are privy to the scholarships are far from inclusive. LGBTQ students face high rates of bullying, but at least 10 percent of schools that have already signed up for the scholarship ban LGBTQ students or have policies objecting to homosexuality. As of mid-August, around 25 percent of schools in the program advertised using ultra-evangelical textbooks that promote racism, sexism and homophobia.
Emily Martin, Vice-President of education and workplace justice at the National Women’s Law Center, stated: “Those students are being told that black hair is somehow by its nature anti-education, by its nature distracting, by its nature illegitimate. It’s an incredibly disturbing thing to say to black girls and black boys.”
Martin also said of the dress codes. “And for girls, with these messages, it’s layered on top of messages about gender and sex. You can really see the double whammy of being told in such a personal way that you don’t measure up.”
A spokeswoman for Florida’s Education Department defended the scholarship program, and rejected the suggestion it was anything but inclusive.
“The Florida Department of Education does not condone discrimination of any kind in Florida schools,” spokeswoman Audrey Walden wrote in an email. “Using a cursory review of private school handbooks, over which the state has no jurisdiction, to paint a negative picture of the Hope Scholarship Program is both deceptive and irresponsible.”
But how can public moneys go to schools with blatantly sexist, homophobic and racist policies
It’s easy when the Florida Department of Education’s governor-appointed board is made up of 7 people and all but one is a white male. Ironically, the Chairperson of the board is a black woman.